Reflections on 2021 🎇

Thoughts on the year gone by and the years ahead

It’s been another crazy year for many people with lifestyles still disrupted by COVID, huge advances, setbacks and challenges faced collectively by people worldwide.

It has been an amazing year for me and my family. Before the hectic rush (and sometimes grind) of daily working life returns, I wanted to put together a few thoughts on things that happened in 2021 and hopes for 2022 and beyond.

Long story short, it involved various academic and practical accomplishments plus the most rewarding event of my life so far, becoming a dad (skip to the end for more on that)!

ActDev

In the first few months of 2021 I led a project called ActDev, which involved research into the levels of transport sustainability associated with new housing developments. The 4 month project resulted in a web application that is publicly available at cyipt.actdev.bike. Currently this is just a prototype of a larger tool that we hope to develop in 2022. The research and thinking underlying the tool is outlined in a pre-print led by my colleague Joey Talbot1 and showcased in the promotional video shown below.

The project also involved working with Dustin Carlino and using A/B Street a traffic simulation tool that allows you to redesign streets and transport patterns to inform policies. Building on the ‘zonebuilder paper’ co-authored by Dustin,2 which inspired the tweet below, I hope do more work with A/B Street in 2022.

First solo authored paper

Collaborating with others is one of the most rewarding parts of academic research. I have published over two dozen papers with many people over the years, and 5 fully peer reviewed papers in 2021. These include a paper on modelling the health impacts of active travel led by James Woodcock at the University of Cambridge,,3 and three papers led by Eugeni Vidal-Tortosa;4;5.6 As lead supervisor I was very happy to see Eugeni pass his viva in November (another 2021 milestone for me). Additional papers from 2021, including pre-prints, can be seen on my website and here.

One of the most rewarding papers, however, was on that I authored solo.7 In it, I review 25 open source tools for geographic analysis in transport planning and discuss the future potential of open source software for guiding effective policy interventions. The paper has received some attention online, as can be seen in the Tweet below, and not just from the academic research community: experienced transport modeller Tom Van Vuren, for example, picked-up on the paper and we hope to take the conversation about uptake of open and transparent software for transport modelling forward in 2022.

I also hope to do more research that is policy relevant, leading to the next topic in my reflections on the year just gone by.

New fellowship: placement in the No. 10 Data Science team (10DS)

An exciting new project started for me in 2021, as I was awarded an 18 month ‘10DS Fellowship’ to help central government make better use data science to support evidence-based decision-making.

The responses replying to that tweet from acquaintances working in related fields, plus emails from colleagues at the University of Leeds, provide a strong motivation to work hard to move things forward. New methods and datasets have great potential to be harnessed to help tackle entrenched challenges in the 21st century. I hope my background and skills will enable me to make a positive difference.

Watch this space for projects that I end up working on as part of this fellowship (that can be published after clearance from No. 10). The placement phase of the fellowship starts in January, and it looks like there will be many exciting opportunities for high impact research. I hope to document lessons learned from the experience in articles for the organisations supporting the fellowship: the ESRC, ADR UK, the Alan Turing Institute (where I was also awarded a fellowship in 2021) and the ONS’s Data Science Campus.

Software development

In addition to research published in academic papers, I have also worked hard on software development and teaching materials. I was amazed and slightly humbled to hear that stplanr, an R package I developed to support strategical cycle network planning in the UK, had been used in research into access to potentially life-saving TB clinics in Malawi.

What better motivation could there be for developing open source software for reproducible data analysis and policy interventions?

Geocomputation with R Second Edition

Perhaps less exciting than starting new projects is ‘finishing’ existing ones. In this case the project is the popular book Geocomputation with R which, alongside other open source teaching materials of the type published on bookdown.org, helps reduce financial barriers to accessing textbooks by providing teaching content that anyone can read.

Jakub, Jannes and I have signed a contract to work on a second edition and we’ve made good progress, as shown below (one new year’s resolution: publish the 2nd edition!).

Becoming a father

The most important event in the year for me was becoming a dad.

It has been a life-changing experience: being responsible for another (little and very cute) person has certainly shifted my perspective on the world, made me prioritise my time more carefully, and made it harder to plan.

My wife Katy and I have worked closely as a team and, despite talk of the ‘baby bomb’ impacting our relationship, little Kit has brought us closer together ♥

Despite inevitable challenges, it’s been the most rewarding thing we’ve done so far, and we’re only 3 months in! Having a little one around encourages long-term thinking, and Kit has strengthened my commitment to research supporting a more sustainable world.

Just look up ☄

Having a baby around on New Year’s Eve, plus the fact that we start the new year in the midst of a pandemic, led to scaled-back plans to celebrate the arrival of 2022. To celebrate, Katy and I watched Don’t Look Up, a sci-fi film satirising so-far sluggish policy responses to threats identified thanks to scientific research, such as climate change.

Having heard great things about it from friends talking about it and seeing positive and provoking comments on social media, with the hashtag #DontLookUp☄, we decided to watch it as part of our NYE celebrations. The film contains the humorous yet inspiring song below by Ariana Grande.

Never thought I would hear these lyrics in a catchy pop song in 2021:

Get your head out of your ass, listen to the goddam qualified scientists

So I’m prepared for anything in the coming year. Optimistic that with hard work, collective intelligence, empathy, and a desire to collaborate on solving tricky problems, the future can be bright. Bring on 2022!

References

1.
Talbot, J. et al. Active Travel Oriented Development: Assessing the suitability of sites for new homes. (2021) doi:10.31219/osf.io/7fuq5.
2.
Lovelace, R., Tennekes, M. & Carlino, D. ClockBoard: A zoning system for urban analysis. (2021) doi:10.31219/osf.io/vncgw.
3.
Woodcock, J., Aldred, R., Lovelace, R., Strain, T. & Goodman, A. Health, environmental and distributional impacts of cycling uptake: The model underlying the Propensity to Cycle tool for England and Wales. Journal of Transport & Health 22, 101066 (2021).
4.
Vidal Tortosa, E., Lovelace, R., Heinen, E. & Mann, R. P. Infrastructure is not enough: Interactions between the environment, socioeconomic disadvantage and cycling participation in England. Journal of Transport and Land Use (2021) doi:10.5198/jtlu.2021.1781.
5.
Vidal Tortosa, E., Lovelace, R., Heinen, E. & Mann, R. P. Cycling behaviour and socioeconomic disadvantage: An investigation based on the English National Travel Survey. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 152, 173–185 (2021).
6.
Vidal Tortosa, E., Lovelace, R., Heinen, E. & Mann, R. P. Socioeconomic inequalities in cycling safety: An analysis of cycling injury risk by residential deprivation level in England. Journal of Transport & Health 23, 101291 (2021).
7.
Lovelace, R. Open source tools for geographic analysis in transport planning. Journal of Geographical Systems (2021) doi:10.1007/s10109-020-00342-2.

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Robin Lovelace
Robin Lovelace
Associate Professor of Transport Data Science

My research interests include geocomputation, data science for transport applications, active travel uptake and decarbonising transport systems